Zach Eflin had to be away from the Phillies for more than a week after he tested positive earlier this month for COVID-19. But the pitcher also had to keep his arm in shape. So it helped that his wife, Lauren, was a softball player in high school.
Lauren Eflin was an outfielder at Florida’s Oviedo High, but she became a catcher last week, helping her husband tune up before he returned to the mound on Tuesday night. Despite a 15-day layoff, Eflin was sharp as he pitched the first six innings of a 3-0 loss to the Padres.
“She’s pretty good,” Eflin said. “She kind of just gets out of the way of everything because she thinks everything is coming at her body.”
Lauren Eflin eventually had enough, telling her husband he was throwing too hard and asked him to throw her fly balls instead. Eflin’s average fastball this season is 93 mph and his wife didn’t have any protective gear except a glove.
“She wanted me to throw the ball softer and up in the air so she could run around,” Eflin said. “But I got out of it what I needed to.”
Eflin, who is vaccinated, said his COVID symptoms were not severe and compared it to having a cold. He had a scratchy throat, some congestion, a day of body aches. But it was enough to pause his season just after his best start of the year, on May 1.
“I just did what I could with what I had, but I was just thankful I was able to start and be healthy and build on this,” Eflin said. “... It’s probably the worst feeling you could have because I’ve done it before in my career with knee surgery and having COVID last year. It’s never fun watching your guys go to war without you there. So that sucked. Just long days, and then the games didn’t come on until 10 at night, so that wasn’t fun. But I’m happy to be back. It’s good to see all the guys today.”
He said there was no recipe for staying fresh. He threw a baseball in a sock and fired pitches against a net before asking his wife to help. It all seemed to work. Eflin struck out five batters on Tuesday without a walk and allowed five hits. His one run was set up by a soft single that beat a defensive shift. The Phillies lost the series opener, but it was of little fault by Eflin.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t pretty tired out there, but I was happy with the way the ball was coming out,” he said. “I was locating in to lefties, which has been something I’ve been working on before I got COVID. I was happy to kind of just pick right back up on that and get some early contact.”
Eflin threw 85 pitches and the Phillies were not comfortable pushing him deeper into the game after a long layoff. He induced weak contact with seven groundouts and threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 23 batters he faced.
“He was great,” manager Joe Girardi said. “His location was great. I thought his two-seamer was great. He was ahead all night in the count and pitched really well.”
Eflin was away from the Phillies for their entire West Coast road trip as he was playing catch with his wife while the Phillies won five of their seven games in Seattle and Los Angeles. He was scheduled to pitch in Seattle but was placed three days earlier on the COVID-19 injured list. Eflin was activated hours before Tuesday’s game and arrived at the ballpark ready to pitch thanks to his throwing partner.
“I was pretty fired up watching that whole Dodgers series at the house. I was trying not to wake the baby because I was very happy at certain parts of the game,” said Eflin, whose daughter was born in October.
“It kind of gives you motivation to do everything that you can to be ready to go when you get back and when I was able to get back with the guys. It was a great road trip and I wish I could’ve been part of it. I think that’s what sucks the most. But I’m happy I’m back and happy to see these guys today and get back out today.”